This morning I started a new audio book. No, I’m not going to tell you the name because, as much as I love it, I’m pointing out a detail that pulled me out of the story. The main character is teenage girl from “upstairs.” Her family is old money and she attends finishing school for the lone purpose of landing a suitable husband.
At one point in the book, she meets a young man who worked for her father. In describing him, the young man, not the father, she notes that he has a bump on the bridge of his nose, like a boxer. I washing dishes when I heard this passage and actually gave the speaker a hard look. “Like a boxer? How would she know a boxer’s nose from beans?”
The description was solid enough, I knew what the author meant. But unless I am gravely mistaken the the point-of-view character would not have seen a boxer’s nose.
This can be hard to remember when writing a character that is notably different than yourself, but you have to keep comparisons and descriptions in line with what this person would know, not what you would know. Thus I might compare a texture to silk or mohair but I’m a knitter. My main character who works on her parent’s dairy farm and his an excellent mechanic would come up with a different comparison — unless she was drawing a parallel to her mother’s softest sweater.
How might the author have described the young man? This is a tough one because most of us immediately know what the author meant. A different description would have to be much more round-about and, because of this, runs the risk of being less satisfying. Still, she could compare him to one of the servents who was nearly dismissed for fighting or whose nose was broken defending a family member or in an accident. She could compare him to someone her father considered rowdy and a bad influence.
It isn’t easy to spot these slips. Remember to look at your story world through the lens of your character’s experiences and interests.